What is Account-Based Marketing?


Finding a Comprehensive Definition

For many experienced marketers, account-based marketing (ABM) is looming large: it has quickly become an essential marketing strategy across numerous industries. As such, it's absolutely a need-to-know concept, but many marketers simply don't know as much as they need to about ABM.

So what is it, exactly?

There are plenty of conflicting or scattered definitions of ABM out there. Naturally, in the marketing and marketing technology (martech) worlds, there’s a lot to be gained by the players in this space by having a unique definition of ABM that aligns with their services. These definitions are all valid, and they each touch on a piece of the truth.

Here are some examples:

  • “An alternative B2B strategy that concentrates sales and marketing resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts within a market and employs personalized campaigns designed to resonate with each account.” (Marketo)
  • “[The treatment of] individual accounts as markets in their own right.” (ITSMA)
  • “A go-to-market strategy that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to land and expand target accounts.” (Engagio)

These three common definitions, and the many other definitions you may encounter, are all useful and credible, despite articulating or emphasizing varying points. In fact, effectively executing ABM requires a deep understanding of ABM, so it's helpful to draw from multiple points of reference. We can use these thoughts to paint a clearer, more comprehensive picture of ABM.

With that goal in mind, we've created our own definition here at HIMSS Media. To us, ABM is:

"A marketing methodology for identifying, understanding, and engaging accounts in order to cultivate awareness or further interest among the key stakeholders of an account’s buyer collective which is conducive to initial, retained, or even expanded business relationships."

Whichever of these definitions speaks to you, they all capture the concept of ABM. Crucially, through all of these definitions runs one simple but important thread: account-based marketing is a methodology.

A Methodology to the Madness of Marketing

An approach, a strategy, a type of treatment – these are all just other ways of describing how methods for effective marketing come together for a larger system, a unique discipline, known as account-based marketing. ABM brings together numerous marketing strategies, from in-depth data analysis to inbound to outbound, into one cohesive methodology.

It's important to note, however, that individual components or tools of ABM do not an ABM strategy make. Simply contacting target accounts, for example, is insufficient. For more information about the subtleties of what ABM is (and what it isn't), check out our related post here.

Laying out the ABM Formula

On a basic level, an ABM strategy entails:

  1. Identifying target accounts, or businesses you want to sell to
  2. Researching those accounts to identify the buyer personas and key players in the buyer collective
  3. Formulating a hypothesis based on your observations about which marketing tactics will be most effective
  4. Implementing those tactics (especially content offerings), personalizing for the account profile
  5. Documenting the impact and effect of those methods
  6. Reiterating, improving and finding data-based trends to identify what works best
  7. Aligning your marketing and sales departments to ensure a smooth lead handoff
  8. Expanding this model to lookalike accounts, personalizing as needed

You'll notice that account-based marketing tactics are rather like the scientific method, with a hypothesis and experiments to prove or disprove it, and subsequent results providing lessons from that information. When done correctly, ABM is incredibly powerful, especially for campaigns within a vertical such as healthcare.

ABM enables you to reach personas with vastly different roles and priorities who operate within the same account or buyer collective — such as an Informatics Nurse, a CFO and a CMO — thus facilitating conversations and guiding them toward your solution. Because it's heavily based on strong data collection and analysis, it continuously improves upon itself. It also provides a balance between inbound vs. outbound and broad vs. specific approaches to marketing.

Data, Data, Data

No, it's not just a new way to articulate the Jaws theme song. It's the account-based marketing mantra, because in the end, it all comes down to data.

Data is important for all effective marketing, but it is absolutely crucial to the unique benefits of an ABM strategy. In fact, deep data insights are just as valuable, if not more so, than stand-alone leads.

Even before you begin, you should be looking for patterns in existing data to understand how your target accounts truly work. Every interaction should be tracked and analyzed. Data must hone your insights and inform your strategies so that you continue to iterate and improve with every account.

Above all, account-based marketing is not just a slightly more targeted version of spamming of your accounts. It is a thorough, research-backed methodology that organizes your marketing efforts into truly valuable exchanges of insights, advice, educational assets and more for your accounts. Data enables you to understand what really matters to the people at your accounts so that you can better deliver that value. That bundle of data should be used to refine all of your strategies, from inbound funnels to outbound targeting.

A Marriage of Inbound and Outbound

Do you remember those old ads for Reese's peanut butter cups? Two kids collide, one with chocolate and one with peanut butter. "Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!" "You got peanut butter in my chocolate!" Account-based marketing is the Reese's of marketing: it's the unexpected marriage of two seemingly opposing strategies that compounds on the best features of each.

It's inbound:

Inbound is all about attracting the right people to your offering by adding value. You position your organization as a thought leader or trusted source of information and ultimately become what buyers are looking for — thus drawing buyers to you like a magnet. In ABM, inbound is vital for understanding your environment and orienting your messages to buyers to create personalized engagements.

You want to position yourself as a thought leader and thus establish trust with your consumers. You employ content strategies to nurture leads down the funnel and guide them toward your sales department. ABM can also scale up these inbound methodologies to meet the needs of a particular vertical like healthcare, targeting a wide pool of personas that form one buying collective.

However, inbound alone can't encapsulate the capabilities of ABM; instead, the account-based approach balances the two strategies.

And it's outbound too:

Targeting key accounts is, naturally, a foundational principle of account-based marketing. This aspect relies on outbound practices: rather than waiting for buyers to come to you, you identify prospects and reach out to them with carefully moderated content and messages.

Outbound in ABM is a facilitator. It enables you to promote your solutions directly to your accounts in a strategic and effective way. Once you've captured the attention of an account, then inbound kicks in, triggering nurture campaigns, value-oriented educational messages, appealing pathways to discover more information and more. Inbound creates a "choose-your-own-adventure" experience for your buyers; outbound just sets their feet on the path toward that adventure.

Adopting ABM: A Word of Caution

Account-based marketing tactics hold enormous promise, especially for providers in the healthcare industry. However, before you begin a campaign, it's important that you understand what your team can and can't do.

ABM is not a switch to flip. Make sure you have reasonable expectations. You'll need significant amounts of content, the ability to track and analyze data effectively, account research, alignment across marketing and sales, coordinated programs...

It's an enormously powerful framework, and it's worth adopting. If you're struggling to get a program up and running, however, look for experienced providers who can assist your efforts, and crucial insights and expedite the process.

Looking for more information? Read a more in-depth discussion of account-based marketing and its role within healthcare technology marketing.